Story Of London

The Queens of England: Introduction

Since the end of the tenth century, England has had six Queens – seven if the hapless Jane Grey is included – who reigned in their own right as Queen Regnant. But England and Britain have also had forty Queens Consort who played no small part in the history of the Kingdom. In this major new series we will attempt to lift the shadows and place both the Queens and their achievements centre-stage. We begin with an introductory essay and a complete list of the Queens of England from the formidable Ymma to the current monarch, Elizabeth II.
Nicholas Hilliard - Queen Elizabeth I

Queen Elizabeth I

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The only serious attempt to present the public with a comprehensive history of the Queens of England was that of the historian and novelist Agnes Strickland. Between 1840 and 1848 she and her sister Elizabeth produced eight volumes detailing the lives of the Queens from Matilda of Flanders (consort of William the Conqueror) to Queen Anne. As a woman, it was not felt appropriate that she should be allowed to consult the State papers and it was only after the vigorous intervention of the Liberal Statesman Lord Normanby that access was provided by the government of Lord John Russell. She had a warmer reception in France where she was given unrestricted access to the hitherto secret papers relating to Mary of Modena and the Jacobite exiles in France. She was an assiduous researcher and her sources are carefully enumerated throughout her work. However, she has been criticised for allowing her Tory politics to uncritically shape the narrative of her “somewhat gossipy history [that] reached a large popular audience”.

These are not reasons to dismiss her work entirely. It is not, perhaps, fair to impose the rigours of late twentieth century scholarship on the work of a nineteenth century historian. She diligently drew on the materials available to her and wrote in the spirit and fashion of her time as did, say, Henry Mayhew whose work is featured elsewhere on this site and whose own religious, political and social prejudices are everywhere visible in his writing. Yet, one does not get the feeling that criticisms of his “affecting survey of the poor and trades of the metropolis” are quite as dismissive as those of the work of Miss Strickland. The fact remains that the intelligent reader of the twenty-first century will be quite able to separate the facts from the opinions in the works of any writer of history, particularly when the facts are as meticulously annotated as they are in the works of Miss Strickland.

This series of biographies will necessarily draw on Miss Strickland’s material, supplemented, where possible and appropriate, by the fruits of later scholarship. As an introduction, however, we can do no better than to quote extensively from the Preface and Introduction to the revised complete edition of Miss Strickland’s magnum opus which was first published in 1851. In these, she provides us with an overview of the position of a queen-consort and provides some notes on the queens who are known from the centuries that preceded the arrival of the Normans. Interspersed between these extracts we provide a complete list of the Queens of England and Britain from the formidable Ymma to the current monarch, Elizabeth II. In order to allow direct cross-reference with our series on English Monarchs
the names and life dates (as opposed to the regnal dates) of each Queen’s husband has also been included in the tables. As the series develops there will be direct hyperlinks from the tables to articles about the featured Queens.

Miss Strickland tells us that:

“The queens of England were not the shadowy queens of tragedy or romance, to whom imaginary words and deeds could be imputed to suit a purpose. They were the queens of real life, who exercised their own free will in the words they spoke, the parts they performed, the letters they wrote… A queen-consort has many exemptions and minute prerogatives. For instance, she pays no toll, nor is she liable to any amercement in any court. In all cases, however, where the law has not expressly declared her exempted, she is upon the same footing with other subjects, being to all intents and purposes the king’s subject and not his equal. The royal charters, in ancient times, were frequently signed by the queen as well as by the king; yet this was not in the quality of a coadjutor in the authority by which the grant was made, but evidently in the capacity of a witness only, and on account of her high rank she was doubtless a most important one. In point of security of her life and person, the queen-consort is put on the same footing with the king. It is equally treason (by the statute of the 25th Edward III) “to compass or imagine the death of our lady the king’s companion, as of the king himself”.”

Emma of Normandy 966-105231. Aethelred II 979-1016
34. Cnut 994-1035
Edith 1020-107537. Edward The Confessor 1005-1066

Quoting from the Rights of Persons section in Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, Miss Strickland continues:

“The queen is entitled to some pecuniary advantages, which form her a distinct revenue … one of which, and formerly the most important was the aurum reginae, or queen-gold, a royal revenue belonging to every queen-consort during her marriage with the king and due from every person who hath made a voluntary offering or fine to the king amounting to ten marks or upwards; and it is due in the proportion of one-tenth part more, over and above the entire offering or fine made to the king and becomes an actual debt of record to the queen’s majesty by the mere offering of the fine. Thus, if an hundred marks of silver be given to the king to take in mortmain, or to have a fair, market, park, chase, or free-warren, then the queen was entitled to ten marks in silver, or rather its equivalent – one mark in gold.”

Matilda of Flanders d.108339. William I (The Conqueror) 1027-1087
Matilda of Scotland 1079-111841. Henry I 1068-1135
Adelicia of Louvaine d.115141. Henry I 1068-1135
Matilda of Boulogne d.115142. Stephen 1096-1154

Eleanor of Provence being stoned

“Another very ancient perquisite of the queen-consort, as mentioned by old writers and quoted by the learned roundhead Prynne, (who after the Restoration became, when keeper of the Tower records, a most zealous stickler for the privileges of the queens of England,) is, that on the taking of a whale on the coasts, which is a royal fish, it shall be divided between the king and queen; the head only being the king’s property and the tail the queen’s.
It is well known that the ward of Queenhithe derives its name from the circumstances of vessels unlading at that little harbour paying tolls to the queen of Henry III, Eleanor of Provence. The covetous disposition of this princess induced her to use her influence with the king, in order to compel every vessel freighted with corn, or other valuable lading, to land at her quay, to increase the revenue she drew from this source. It is well for the interests of trade and commerce that our latter queens have been actuated by very different feelings towards the subjects of their royal husbands, than the sordid selfishness practised by this princess.” The illustration shows the people of London stoning Eleanor’s barge as it passes under London Bridge.

Eleanor of Aquitaine 1122-120243. Henry II 1133-1189
Berengaria of Navarre 1163-123044. Richard I (The Lionheart) 1189-1199
Isabella of Angouleme 1188-124645. John (Lackland) 1199-1216

Statue of Budica at Westminster

“The earliest British queen named in history is Cartismandua, who, though a married woman, appears to have been the sovereign of the Brigantes, reigning in her own right. This was about the year 50.
Boudica, the warrior queen of the Iceni, succeeded her deceased lord, king Prasutagus, in the regal office. … The description of her dress and appearance on the morning of the battle that ended so disastrously for the royal Amazon and her country, quoted from a Roman historian, is remarkably picturesque:- “After she had dismounted from her chariot, in which she had been driving from rank to rank to encourage her troops, attended by her daughters and her numerous army she proceeded to a throne of marshy turfs, apparelled, after the fashion of the Romans, in a loose gown of changeable colours, under which she wore a kirtle very thickly plaited, the tresses of her yellow hair hanging to the skirts of her dress. About her neck she wore a chain of gold, and bore a light spear in her hand, being of person tall, and of a comely, cheerful and modest countenance; and so awhile she stood, pausing to survey her army, and being regarded with reverential silence, she addressed to them an impassioned and eloquent speech on the wrongs of her country.” The overthrow and death of this heroic princess took place in the year 60.”

Eleanor of Provence 1223-129146. Henry III 1207-1272
Eleanor of Castile 1242-129047. Edward I 1239-1307
Marguerite of France 1282-131847. Edward I 1239-1307
Isabella of France 1296-135848. Edward II 1284-1327
Philippa of Hainault 1314-36949. Edward III 1312-1377
Anne of Bohemia 1367-139450. Richard II 1377-1399
Isabella of Valois 1389-140950. Richard II 1377-1399

“There is every reason to suppose that the noble code of laws called the Common Law of England, usually attributed to Alfred, were by him derived from the laws first established by a British queen. “Martia”, says Holinshed, “surnamed Proba or the Just, was the widow of Gutiline king of the Britons, and was left protectress of the realm during the minority of her son. Perceiving much in the conduct of her subjects which needed reformation, she devised sundry wholesome laws, which the Britons, after her death, named the Martian statutes. Alfred caused the laws of this excellently learned princess, whom all commended for her knowledge of the Greek tongue, to be established in the realm.” These laws, embracing trial by jury and the just descent of property, were afterwards collated and still further improved by Edward the Confessor, and were pertinaciously demanded from the successors of William the Conqueror by the Anglo-Normans, as by their Anglo-Saxon subjects.”

House of Lancaster
Joanna of Navarre 1370-143751. Henry IV 1366-1413
Catherine of Valois 1401-143752. Henry V 1387-1422
Margaret of Anjou 1430-148253.Henry VI1422-1461
House of York
Elizabeth Woodville 1437-149254. Edward IV 1442-1483
Anne Neville 1454-148556. Richard III 1483-1485

“Rowena, the wily Saxon princess, who, in an evil hour for the unhappy people of the land, became the consort of Vortigern in the year 450, is the next queen whose name occurs in our early annals. Guiniver, the golden-haired queen of Arthur, and her faithless successor and namesake, have been so mixed up with the tales of the romance poets and troubadours, that it would be difficult to verify a single fact connected with either.
Among the queens of the Saxon Heptarchy we hail the nursing mothers of the Christian faith in this island who firmly established the good work begun by the British lady Claudia, and the empress Helena. The first and most illustrious of these queens was Bertha, the daughter of Cherebert king of Paris, who had the glory of converting her pagan husband, Ethelbert, the king of Kent, to that faith of which she was so bright an ornament, and of planting the first Christian church at Canterbury. Her daughter, Ethelburga, was in like manner the means of inducing her valiant lord, Edwin king of Northumbria, to embrace the Christian faith. Eanfled, the daughter of this illustrious pair, afterwards the consort of Oswy king of Mercia, was the first individual who received the sacrament of baptism in Northumbria.”

House of Tudor
Elizabeth of York 1466-150357. Henry VII 1457-1509
Katherine of Aragon 1485-153658. Henry VIII 1491-1547
Anne Boleyn 1501-153658. Henry VIII 1509-1547
Jane Seymour 1509-153758. Henry VIII 1509-1547
Anne of Cleves 1515-155758. Henry VIII 1509-1547
Catherine Howard 1521-154258. Henry VIII 1509-1547
Catherine Parr 1512-154858. Henry VIII 1509-1547
Jane Grey 1537-54Guildford Dudley d,1554
60. Mary I 1515-58Philip II of Spain 1527-98
61. Elizabeth I 1533-1603

“In the eighth century, the consorts of the Saxon kings were excluded, by a solemn law, from sharing in the honours of royalty, on account of the crimes of the queen Edburga who had poisoned her husband, Brihtric of Wessex; and even when Egbert consolidated the kingdoms of the Heptarchy ihnto an empire, of which he became the Bretwalda, or sovereign, his queen Redburga was not permitted to participate in his coronation. Osburga, the first wife of Ethelwulph, and the mother of the great Alfred, was also debarred from this distinction; but when, on her death, Ethelwulph espoused the beautiful and accomplished Judith, the sister of the emperor of the Franks, he violated this law by placing her beside him on the King’s bench, and allowing her a chair of state, and all other distinctions to which here high birth entitled her. This afforded a pretence to his ungallant subjects for a general revolt, headed by his eldest son Ethelbald, by whom he was deprived of half his dominions. Yet Ethelbald, on his father’s death, was so captivated by the charms of the fair cause of his parricidal rebellion, that he outraged all Christian decency by marrying her.”

House of Stuart
Anne of Denmark 1574-161962. James I 1566-1625
Henrietta Maria 1609-6963. Charles I 1600-1649
The Commonwealth
House of Stuart Restored
Catharine of Braganza 1638-170564. Charles II 1630-1685
Mary of Modena 1658-171865. James II 1633-1688
66. Mary II 1662-169467. William III 1650-1702
68. Anne 1664-1714Prince George of Denmark 1653-1708

Dunstan confronting Elgiva and Edwy

“The beautiful and unfortunate Elgiva, the consort of Edwy, has afforded a favourite theme for poetry and romance; but the partisans of her great enemy, Dunstan [archbishop of Canterbury 959-988], have so mystified her history, that it would be no easy matter to give an authentic account of her life. Elfrida, the fair and false queen of Edgar, has acquired an infamous celebrity for her remorseless hardness of heart. She did not possess the talents necessary to the accomplishment of her design of seizing the reins of government after she had assassinated her unfortunate stepson at Corfe-castle, for in this she was entirely circumvented by the political genius of Dunstan, the master-spirit of the age. Although this infamous woman escaped the vengeance of human justice by fleeing to the continent, she was reduced to such abject destitution, that Asser declares she was seen begging her bread at Pavia, where she died.”

House of Hanover
Sophia Dorothea of Celle 1666-172669. George I 1660-1727
Caroline of Anspach 1683-173770. George II 1683-1760
Charlotte Sophia of Mecklenburg-Strelitz 1744-181871. George III 1738-1820
Caroline of Brunswick-Wolfenbuttel 1768-182172. George IV 1762-1830
Adelaide of Saxe-Meningen 1792-184973. William IV 1765-1837
74. Victoria 1819-1901Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha 1819-61

“Such is a brief summary of our early British and Anglo-Saxon queens. A far more important position on the progressive tableau of history is occupied by the royal ladies who form the series of our mediaeval queens … The spirit of Chivalry, born in the poetic South , was not understood by the matter-of-fact Saxon, who regarded women as a very subordinate link of the social chain. The Normans, having attained to a higher grade of civilization, brought with them the refined notion, inculcated by the troubadours and minstrels of France and Italy, that the softer sex was entitled, not only to the protection and tenderness, but to the homage and service of all true knights. The revolution in popular opinion effected by this generous sentiment elevated the character of woman, and rendered the consort of an Anglo-Norman or Plantagenet king a personage of scarcely less importance than her lord.”

House Of Saxe-Coburg
Alexandra of Denmark 1844-192575. Edward VII 1841-1910
Mary of Teck 1867-195376. George V 1865-1936
House of Windsor
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon 1900-200278. George VI 1895-1952
79. Elizabeth II 1952 –Philip, Duke of Edinburgh 1921-

To summarise the importance of English queens-consort in the historical process, Miss Strickland quotes from an unnamed “eloquent contemporary”:

“There is something very peculiar in the view which we obtain of history in tracing the lives of queens-consort. The great world is never entirely shut out; the chariot of state is always to be seen, – the sound of its wheels ever in our ears. We observe that the thoughts, the feelings the actions of her whose course we are tracing are at no time entirely disconnected with him by whose hand the reins are guided, and we not unfrequently detect the impulse of her finger by the direction in which it moves.”

Agnes StricklandFinally, and in view of the criticisms of some twentieth century historians who see nothing but “entertainment value” and “fun” in her work, it is, perhaps, only fair to let Miss Strickland defend herself. In her preface to the 1951 edition se set out the principles by which an historian must work and which dictated her own approach to her task:

“They [the queens of England] have left mute but irrefragable witnesses of what they were in their own deeds, for which they, and not their biographers, must stand accountable. To tamper with truth, for the sake of conventional views, is an imbecility not to be expected of historians. Events spring out of each other: therefore, either to suppress or give a false version of one, leads the reader into a complicated mass of errors, having the same effect as the spurious figure with which a dishonestly disposed school-boy endeavours to prove a sum that baffles his feeble powers of calculation. Ay, and it is as easily detected by those who are accustomed to verify history by the tests of dates and documents. It is, however, the doom of every writer who has the fidelity to bring forward suppressed evidences, or the courage to confute long-established falsehoods, to be assailed, not only by the false but by the deluded, in the same spirit of ignorant prejudice with which Galileo was persecuted by the bigots of a darker age, for having ventured to demonstrate a scientific truth…
Neither the clamour of the angry supporters of the old opinion, nor the submission of the person who had exposed its fallacy, had in the least affected the fact, any more than the assertion that black is white can make evil good or good evil. Opinions have their date, and change with circumstances, but facts are immutable.”

Her limitations were, as we have said, the limitations of her age and the materials available to her. No generation has the monopoly on historical truth and historians who scoff at those who have preceded them, and on whose work their own is inevitably founded, should take care that they are not hoist by their own petard when future research highlights their own limitations.

Articles in the series already published:

The Queens of England: Ymma
The Queens of England: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon: Introduction
The Queens of England: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon: Part 1
The Queens of England: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon: Part 2
The Queens of England: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon: Part 3
The Queens of England: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon: Part 4
The Queens of England: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon: Part 5
The Queens of England: Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon: Part 6